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Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives,

Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives,

How Could You Do That, and

The Ten Commandments by Laura Schlessinger

 

     The beneficial ideas offered by Laura Schlessinger include:

·        Act despite fears or other feelings. Actions matter more than emotions. Tolerate the discomfort of beginning.

·        Avoid victim attitudes. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Avoid excuses. Don’t whine. Everyone has bad things happen to her. Let trivial injustices go.

·        Courage exhilarates.

·        Don’t seek happiness in wrong places. Individuals dislike being told duties. Moral courage may make you unpopular.

·        Big changes produce more results than many little changes.

·        A life without duty and courage lacks depth and purpose. Don’t quit. Be strong. Cowardice is worse than stupidity. Have high standards. Character matters most. Fight evil. Doing good should make you feel good. Doing bad should make you feel bad. Self-worth should come from accomplishments.

·        We should not brood over broken or damaged relationships. Work on the relationships you should. If others constantly mistreat you, bad luck is not the biggest problem.

 

     Not much is wrong with the above ideas. (Surprisingly, distortions I made were toward improvement.) These books, however, are flawed. You can read similar ideas in quote books much faster, without Sclessinger's verbose writing style. By the time I got through a couple dozen pages of Stupid Men, I wanted to give up. The Ten Commandments and Things Women look like they were written over a weekend, How Could You Do That over two weekends and Things Men during a break at a golf outing. Nevertheless, the author’s ear voyeurism—stories about the three A’s: Abuse, adultery and abortion—translate well into book melodrama. But melodrama does not equal moral value. If you need to spend several hours a day being told not to commit adultery by talk show hosts, you might want to consider the possibility something is wrong with your desires and that you are living as a wanton. It takes only a few minutes to figure out adultery is wrong. Schlessinger preaches the same things repeatedly to a choir having a tiny moral universe.

 

     The stupid things—give up psychos, neediness, desperation, greed, machismo, cowardice, flakiness, distractions, status, addictions, immaturity, sexual excesses, relationship evasions, parental hang-ups, hands-off parenting, jerkiness, aggression, emotive manipulation, marrying way down, love for blockheads, affectionless living, unmarried pregnancies and wrongheaded commitments—are readily apparent. Those for whom these rules are a revelation might have spent years in an abyss or a near equivalent: Mass culture.

 

     Some wrongs infiltrate the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, as Bernard Gert points out, imply slavery is acceptable, unless “Give your slave a day off,” somehow criticizes slavery. The Commandments do not encourage beneficial action, nor do they encourage the avoidance of other evils. Some individuals treat them as absolute rules, causing other evils. Vague enough that a variety of versions exist, the commandments appeal to a sacred text, an insult to the moral autonomy of humans, stunting moral reasoning.

 

     Schlessinger crowns Damon Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) of Jerry Maguire the morally ideal man. It is not a great sign when alleged moralists pronounce celebrities the moral ideal. Gooding is Oscar worthy, but the character has huge moral flaws--good entertainment, but not good morality. Few want to watch a paragon-of-virtue fictional character. But to turn almost any film character into a real moral ideal, remains unwise. Judging by her selection of Tidwell, Schlessinger’s sole criterion is devotion to family. Thousands of occupations produce better moral results than football. (If football turns boys into men, how come football players are callous pelvic missionaries when they are not merely feckless? As someone once more or less said, “Tom Clancy—known for providing trivial, long winded, technical entertainment for lazy, trivial men who make no effort to be human—will now do more of the same as owner of the Minnesota Vikings.”)

 

[Irrelevant digression time:]

     The lead character is worse. In typical Hollywood fashion, Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) behaves brutishly, then offers a last second conversion soliloquy we should unskeptically believe. (Dump the bum, wistful woman.) A pause and a stated epiphany now pass for actions that shake souls.

 

    I saw An American President on the same night, a flick featuring another paragon of abysmal morality. President Andrew Not-Much-Of-A Shepard (Michael Douglas) launches a nighttime missile attack against a Libyan military post's janitorial staff because it would be the most “proportional” response. It occurs to none of the film’s groupthink geniuses that those most responsible must be punished, not the less guilty. President Shepard thinks it matters little whether you blow up janitors or murderous dictators, provided some sort of one for one exchange occurs. Never mind making distinctions between murderers and those trying to punish murderers. (And proportionality? If a junta of 100 individuals murders one person all 100 deserve to be punished, not one proportional person.) Nor does Shepard and his staff ever think about what sort of actions would deter future massacres, an unmitigated example of not finding alternatives. The tone of the film tries to convince us, ironically, that President Shepard is a deep and serious thinker. His type of slip-shod moral reasoning constantly occurs. In the half century after World War II, when over 100 million people died in hundreds of wars, not one individual was tried, convicted and punished by an international war crimes tribunal.

 

     In better parts, Schlessinger argues we flee to fantasies, that even if our fantasies came true, it would not make for a good life. Duty, striving, and friendship make for a happy life, she notes. Yet we act as if dreams were sufficient to change physical reality, that lives of trickery of self and others are the good life.

 

      Psychology, she writes, focuses on excuses and self-gratification. She claims neotraditional values help get us through temptation, so we serve long-term interests. Caring and sacrifice must be relentlessly taught and practiced.

 

     Much of her writing, however, is flat out wrong: “We usually know the right thing to do: Confusion comes from trying to reconcile wrong with right.” While we usually can easily distinguish evil from the mediocre (robbing children versus playing croquet, for example) finding morally right actions takes enormous effort. Shall we volunteer for charity X, work on a vaccine or something else?

 

      Judging from the venom, it seems Schlessinger considers daycare an all time great evil. Never mind the millions murdered every year or suffering from malnutrition. Never mind the fact that most individuals on this planet receive almost no decent moral education, regardless whether they are at home, school or daycare. Never mind that society gets enormous moral benefits from working parents (paying taxes, supporting the disabled, providing health care, etc.) Her venom does help her audience feel morally superior, however, sitting home, chomping doughnuts, and listening to the radio.

 

Studies that find 80 percent of day care inadequate have serious flaws, including unrepresentative samples, inadequate decomposition (heredity, income, local culture and parental education level are not factored in) and isolated statistics (minor differences represented as major). One survey suggests 90 percent parental satisfaction with daycare.

 

     Research suggesting we should be alarmed because 17 percent of children in daycare are aggressive versus a lower number for stay at home children is faulty because: (1) stay-at-home parents inherit less impulsive, less aggressive heredity, which they pass on to their children; (2) parents may be more likely to put aggressive children in day care because parents do not want to stay with aggressive children all day; (3) individuals using day care are more often from a more aggressive cultural background. Children who spend their time at home are also unlikely to be aggressive in test situations because being around strange children is less familiar to them. Diffidence is more probable in strange social situations. Stay-at-home toddlers may become more aggressive after a few years in school. Seventeen percent of American school age children, research suggests, are aggressive. Stay-at-home toddlers may become more aggressive when they get go to school and get familiar with spending time in large groups of other kids, many of whom are not their friends. More important, parents, daycare workers and others in our culture give the wrong types of attention and discipline to children. Allegedly, only one percent of children in French daycare are aggressive.

 

     Maybe Schlessinger has it backward. She argues one parent should stay home with children until children attend school, then both parents should be free to work. But since reading and writing are extremely important, and since decent parents have little influence on early childhood development, perhaps toddlers are better off in daycare than elementary age kids are in elementary school. Dedicated homeschoolers (with their devotion to teaching reading and writing) may be doing far more for their kids than the parents who think they are morally superior because they stay home with their kids for the first five years, then head to work.

 

     An unstated, yet more accurate Ten Commandments of conservatism might include:

·        Economics is not a moral issue, except for the moral imperitive for policies that benefit ultra conservatives and harm others.

·        Flag burning, school prayer and similar issues are moral issues because they deflect attention from issues that conservatives need not address.

·        No matter the problem, the intelligentsia are important causes or the most important causes.

·        Any level of consumerism is acceptable, except when it is spent on things that ultraconservatives do not spend money on.

·        Totalitarian markets create only good things or create good things in such high probabilities that exceptions can safely be ignored.

·        Criticizing consumerism and power markets is dispiriting and anti-American. Renouncing your citizenship to escape taxes and build mansions in tax havens is not anti-American but a brave act of courage and citizenship that sends a moral message to the government and other Americans.

·        Tax cuts for the rich inspire the rich to work harder and build wonderful things. Tax cuts for others are anti-fairness, anti-equality, merely pandering, a form of dependency, and encourage the non-rich to work less, and the nonrich working less is bad not because the non-rich produce much of value but because it causes social problems.

·        Moral value is determined by outrage, intuition and tradition, not harm, benefit, rights, and duties. Morality is a source of great purpose and emotional depth, except when it involves detailed arguments or calculations of utility, in which case it is cold and vulgar because it is boring and might conflict with intuitions and common nonsense. Consequentialist considerations are outweighed by appeals to arbitrary ultra conservative rules. Any rules that do not benefit conservatives do not exist or carry no weight because they violate consequentialism or conservative rules.

·        Given choices among money, religion, amusement, reason, humanitarianism and family values, choose money, religion and amusement. Too hell with reason, humanitarianism and family values.

·        Feeling strongly about something is a good reason to screw people, except if etiquette is at stake or non-ultra conservative is doing the screwing.

 

     One could do worse than adopting the norms on the back cover of Ten Stupid Things Men and one could do a whole lot better. It is not a good sign when the best part of a book is its back cover--or the table of contents in the case of Ten Stupid Things Women. Not recommended times four. Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 11, 2009.

 

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